More than 250 authors and Bureau members of the Working Group II (WGII) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) from more than 60 countries attended the organisation’s first Lead Author Meeting (LAM) at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Durban. The meeting marked the beginning of the WGII’s main contribution to the Sixth Assessment Cycle of the IPCC.
Durban is the site of an office of the IPCC WGII Technical Support Unit (TSU) which assists South Africa’s first IPCC Co-Chair, UKZN’s Professor Debra Roberts, who, together with Professor Hans-Otto Pörtner of Germany, oversees the WGII contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (AR6). The WGII’s main assessment report will be finalised by 2021 and will focus on the impacts, adaptation and vulnerability to climate change. ‘It is an honour to host the first meeting for this major report in Durban,’ said Roberts, who is Head of the Sustainable and Resilient City Initiatives Unit in the eThekwini Municipality. ‘This highlights the important leadership role of cities in the global fight against climate change. At the same time, it emphasises the contributions that the African continent makes to the IPCC assessments.’
The Durban Office of the WGII TSU is the first such office in Africa and is supported by the Government of South Africa – represented by the Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA)) – with financial support from the governments of Norway, Germany and New Zealand.
UKZN, as host, provides infrastructure and financial support for related postdoctoral research.
At the opening plenary, IPCC Chair, Hoesung Lee, and Roberts addressed authors and delegates.
Deputy Director-General of the DEA’s Climate Change, Air Quality and Sustainable Development Office, Ms Tsakani Ngomane; Member of the Executive Council (MEC) for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA) in KwaZulu-Natal, Ms Nomusa Dube-Ncube, and UKZN Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Teaching and Learning, Mr Sandile Songca, also presented.
‘It is particularly important that this meeting is taking place in Africa,’ said Lee. ‘Climate change affects us all, but is a particular threat to those in developing regions. This meeting serves as a symbol of the IPCC’s engagement with Africa and African scientists and policy-makers – we would like to see greater involvement from this continent.’
Ngomane encouraged co-operation and collaboration between Working Groups to produce meaningful results for policy-makers.
‘For us living in the developing world, where climate change vulnerability is relatively high and adaptive capacity is relatively low, the findings from Working Group II will be of the utmost importance,’ she said
‘It is important for us as a country to have this chance to listen to the inputs that are going to be presented here,’ said Dube-Ncube. ‘I’m confident that cooperatively, we can accelerate the implementation of the agreements as well as the 2030 agenda for sustainable development.’
Songca described UKZN’s research priorities, and said the University was proud to support the Durban office of the WGII TSU. He expressed his hope that the LAM outreach to the University community would be fruitful in terms of increasing the number of young people responding to climate change needs.
Roberts underscored the need for science to have an enabling environment in political, administrative, governmental and tertiary educational spaces, and highlighted the power of female leadership.
‘Climate change is a real and present danger to the aspirations of people on the ground and the sustainable development pathway for our continent, our country and our city. It is something that we need to tackle with urgency, and that is why the partnership with science is so vital,’ she said.
The week’s programme included an outreach event on UKZN’s Howard College campus where IPCC authors met with more than 40 university scientists, students and emerging academics. This interaction was an important opportunity for aspiring scientists and academics to interact with lead authors from around the globe.
Authors also visited eThekwini’s Buffelsdraai Community Reforestation Project as well as several other projects where local sustainability and environmental work is ongoing and where the authors could engage with local people and issues.
During the week, about 14 postgraduate students from the University also volunteered their time in providing logistical support at the ICC.
Words: Christine Cuénod